Stranger Things Season 4
Photo: Netflix/CNET

Stranger Things hasn’t uploaded new episodes since 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic. It seems like forever ago, and viewers can be forgiven if they don’t quite remember where the hit Netflix show left off. But with the first half of Stranger Things season 4 arriving on May 27, and the second half on July 1, it’s time to go back to Hawkins. So where did we leave off?

(Spoilers for the first three seasons of Stranger Things ahead.)

The basics

So back in the first season, Hawkins, Indiana, is just a normal little 1980s town. Until young Will Byers disappears. Turns out that the nearby Hawkins National Laboratory is messing around with the supernatural, and somehow broke through to a creepy dimension called the Upside Down, unleashing such monsters as demogorgons and the terrifying Mind Flayer. The lab is also experimenting on kids who seem to have special powers. One of them, dubbed Eleven, escapes and joins Will’s group of friends — Mike, Dustin and Lucas — and helps rescue Will. Eleven gets adopted by town police chief Jim Hawkins. Happy ending? Ha, we’re just getting started.

We also meet the entertaining older siblings of Will’s crew — his brother, Jonathan; Mike’s sister, Nancy; and Nancy’s then-boyfriend, Steve “The Hair” Harrington. (Steve starts out as a jerk, but he gets way, way better.) Also, Nancy’s friend, Barb. RIP, Barb.

In the second season, a new family moves to town from California. Red-headed Maxine “Max” Mayfield eventually fits in with the Will-Mike-Dustin-Lucas-Eleven group, while her violent stepbrother Billy Hargrove unnerves the kids. But while characters come and go, the Upside Down and its creatures remains a threat. That brings us up to season 3, which aired in 2019. Here we go…

Season 3 begins

It’s 1984-85, and the Starcourt Mall is Hawkins’ new hangout, complete with Jazzercize gym and all the neon-crazy colors of a mall back in the Madonna heyday.

  • Dustin’s back from science camp and mooning over a Utah girl named Suzie he contacts via ham radio.
  • Mike and Eleven are a couple, and Hopper isn’t happy about that. THREE-INCH RULE!
  • All the moms at the pool are drooling over lifeguard Billy, but on his way to a possible rendezvous with Nancy and Mike’s mom, he gets possessed by the Mind Flayer. Billy ends up kidnapping a fellow lifeguard, Heather, and eventually feeding her and her parents to the creature.
  • Meanwhile, Nancy and Jonathan are digging into the town’s mysteries via their intern jobs at the local paper (which is staffed by a bunch of misogynistic losers). They investigate the case of a strange old lady, Mrs. Driscoll, who’s been noticing some weird rat-related events.
  • Steve and new character Robin Buckley work together at the mall ice cream shop, Scoops Ahoy, where they help Dustin translate a Russian radio message he’s intercepted. Lucas’ sister, Erica, a scene stealer if ever there was one, appears and ends up helping the Scoops Troop much more than you might expect.
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Brawl for it all at the mall

All the various groups work together to try to figure out the mysteries — of Billy’s weird possession, of the Russian transmission, and more. It all culminates in a rocking battle on several fronts. You really gotta watch it, but here are some highlights.

  • The Scoops Troop (Robin, Steve, Dustin and Erica) find a Russian lab below Starcourt Mall, where soldiers are trying to force their way into the Upside Down. At one point, Steve and Robin are drugged by the Russians, but they recover. Erica is damn sassy and afraid of nothing, and Dustin reaches out to Suzie for a pivotal code, at which point they sing a romantic duet of NeverEnding Story, the theme from the 1984 movie. Not kidding. Here, watch it.
  • Nancy and Jonathan find Will, Mike, Lucas, Eleven and Max, and they all end up racing around the mall hiding from Russian soldiers, the Mind Flayer and the possessed Billy. Eleven uses her powers to travel into Billy’s troubled past, and manages to free him from the Mind Flayer, whereupon he sacrifices himself to save her.
  • Hopper and Joyce enlist the help of Russian-speaking Murray and take a jovial, Slurpee-loving Russian named Alexei as their mostly willing hostage. He’s helpful and fun, but gets shot (through a Woody Woodpecker carnival prize) by another Russian at the Hawkins fair. Hopper, Joyce and Murray fight to close the gate and kill the Mind Flayer, but unfortunately, Hopper is trapped on the wrong side of the gate. In a tearful scene, he tells Joyce to blow it up, presumably killing him. NOOOOOOO, HOP!

Where are the characters at season’s end?

Hopper is back in the USSR

The Hawkins crew assume he’s dead. But an after-credits scene shown during the finale reveals an American is imprisoned in a creepy Russian prison camp where unlucky prisoners are fed to a demogorgon. Trailers have since confirmed Hopper is indeed alive at this unnerving prison located in Kamchatka, Russia. Never fear, he’ll get out somehow. He and Joyce have to get that dating relationship off the ground.

California, here we come

Joyce Byers moved out of Hawkins, taking sons Will and Jonathan. Since Hopper is presumed dead, Eleven, who’s now without her powers, went along with the Byers family, ending up in the fictional town of Lenora Hills, California. Things don’t look sunny in the Golden State, however — a preview shows El getting snubbed at school, and then being taken away in some kind of prison van. But hey, at least their new town seems to have a roller rink. And Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) is back, telling El that the world has no hope without her.

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Meanwhile, back in Hawkins…

So who’s back in Hawkins? Well, Lucas, who appears to be doing well on the school basketball team. Max, who’s mourning Billy, and at one point floats in the air above his grave. Mike and Dustin are seen cheering Lucas on during a game, and Mike’s wearing a shirt for the Hellfire Club, which is apparently the school Dungeons & Dragons club. There’s some kind of plotline revolving around what looks like a haunted house, and a deteriorating grandfather clock plays a role — time travel, maybe? Erica, Steve and Nancy are briefly seen in the trailer, but we’re left to wonder if Steve and Robin really got those jobs at the video store. (Manager Keith told Robin: “You … start Monday,” before pointing to Steve and saying, “You … start never.”)

How to watch Stranger Things season 4

Get yourself Netflix and settle in for the first half of season 4, set to arrive on May 27, and the rest of the season on July 1. Unlike Dustin and Suzie’s song, it’s not a never-ending story — there’s only one season of Stranger Things remaining after this one.


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